Sustainable Student Farm at UIUC opens new produce stand

Photo by Greg Gancarz |  UIUC student and SSF employee Anna Serrano bags up a purchase for a customer at the SSF’s Main Quad stand location.

Photo by Greg Gancarz |
UIUC student and SSF employee Anna Serrano bags up a purchase for a customer at the SSF’s Main Quad stand location.

Greg Gancarz

Staff Writer

The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s Sustainable Student Farm now has two separate locations on the university’s campus, from which it provides organically-grown produce to the university’s dining services and the community as a whole.

In addition to the SSF’s usual location on the Main Quad, behind the Illini Student Union, a second stand is now located in front of the University’s Meat Sciences Lab on the South end of campus and will be open Tuesdays 1–5 p.m. The new stand will only be in operation until the end of August, though the usual stand will continue its weekly operations until late October and is open Thursdays 10 a.m.–2 p.m.

Produce available for purchase ranges widely, from tomatoes, potatoes, squash, basil, and parsley, to what may be lesser-known items like the tomatillo and kohlrabi.

Now in its ninth season, the SSF sold over 30,000 pounds of produce in the last year alone, all of which was produced from about three acres of tillable land on a farm about two miles from the main UIUC campus.

According to Bruce Branham, the crop sciences professor who started the SSF, only about 10 percent of the produce is sold at the stands. The other 90 percent is sold to the school’s dining services.

Although the SSF has not gone through the expensive process to get certified as organic, everything grown is organically- and sustainably-produced according to Anna Serrano, a horticulture and pre-med student who has worked with the SSF for over three years.

“It’s a low input production, meaning that we are off the grid,” says Nejra Muminovic, who helps operate the meat lab stand. “We use very little electricity. For washing and whatnot, we use very little water. We grow organically which means we don’t use heavy pesticides or herbicides or anything like that. We usually use our hands so we have very little tractor use—very little diesel or fuel use.”

The operation is mostly run by student volunteers.

“We are associated with the University of Illinois’ Crop Sciences but we’re almost a separate entity,” Serrano says. “We get all of our workers from volunteers or we hire, and the students usually come from Crop Sciences but they can range from everywhere. We’ve had engineers, we’ve had just a plethora of individuals.”

Muminovic says the new location is very convenient, considering the meat market is located inside the building.

“I love it,” Muminovic says. “Get your meat. Get your veggies. Go home. You’re all set. I really like it all. It’s what I live off of. It’s so affordable.”

Muminovic is not the only one to enjoy the new location. Champaign resident Lisa finds the stand and its hours to be a viable alternative to the grocer’s and markets.

“Saturday morning at the farmer’s market is too crowded,” she says. “I’ve got other stuff to do. So, I think this is a good deal.”

In addition to selling produce, Serrano also says the SSF is looking to process some of the produce into other goods as well.

“A lot of our foods also go to processing,” Serrano says. “We are working with another group on campus that processes peppers so we’re trying to make some hot sauce.”

Many of the farm’s tomatoes already get processed into tomato sauce for the University Dining Services, which are then preserved and used year-round.

“It’s the tomatoes and the sweet peppers that really go,” Serrano says. “When it gets later in the season, we usually don’t sell out because we have so much produce, but now, at the beginning…last week we almost sold out. But it’s not often…due to the amount of produce we have. We are very well stocked.”

Serrano says the methods of crop production are an important issue that are often overlooked.

“I feel very strongly about the way food is grown in our society due to the fact that a lot of chemicals are put into it…pesticides or insecticides or anything like that, and you’re eating that,” Serrano says. “It’s going into your body. That’s something very serious that a lot of people kind of overlook and don’t really think about the consequences that it actually has on you, on your children, if you’re pregnant, or anything of that sort.

“I feel very strongly about making our country, our community, a healthier and cleaner place for future generations, and that’s the sustainability part of what we do,” she says.

For more information on the SSF visit www.thefarm.illinois.edu.